Some Warwick Township councillors are voicing concern after Mayor Jackie Rombouts visited protestors in downtown Ottawa.
Rombouts was with John Lammers of Petrolia, a deacon in the Catholic Church, who drove to Ottawa in a transport from LaSalle Agri for the Jan. 28 protest called the Freedom Convoy. Lammers has been there ever since.
A photo, dated Feb. 11, shows Rombouts with Lammers and his wife, Teresa, holding a blanket saying “God Keep Our Land, Glorious and Free.”
“John Lammers, his and his wife, Teresa are friends of ours and I wanted to see (the protest) for myself,” Rombouts told The Independent.
“There’s been a lot of a lot of information going around about what’s happening there. So I wanted to see for myself, what’s actually happening.”
The demonstration has been widely criticized. It was organized by a group called Canada Unity. It’s express goal heading out across Canada was to remove the current Liberal government and form a coalition with the senate and governor general – a move that is not constitutional – in order to remove all COVID-19 measures including vaccine mandates and masks.
Protestors have been seen with Nazi and Confederate flags on the hill. Ottawa Police said Friday over 400 hate crime complaints have been registered related to the demonstrations.
There is also video of a protestor dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and dressing up a statue of Terry Fox, both actions which were widely condemned including by the Royal Canadian Legion and the Terry Fox Foundation.
But Rombouts says “the mainstream radio, media has been lying about (the demonstration) from the start.
“I saw firsthand that there’s no violence. There’s no racism happening there.
“I think that there’s a large portion of our community and of the society as a whole, that is very, very concerned about what’s happening in our country. And I think that they have a right to be heard. And they’ve tried many different options over the past year to be heard; writing letters, making phone calls, doing local rallies. And they feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. And I just wish we had leadership in Parliament that was willing to sit down and listen to Canadians.”
Rombouts has stood against vaccine mandates since the Ford government implemented them. A statement she made then, saying she would not support businesses who turned unvaccinated people away, drew a lot of support on social media. But the attention also attracted people who threatened her life. Rombouts says the police have been unable to do anything because the threats are by anonymous social media trolls.
Rombouts frustration with the mandates stem from concern for her children. One has a heart condition and Rombouts says two doctors have told her not to have him vaccinated. However, no one can write an exemption letter for her child since the guidelines for exemptions are for those who have had the vaccine and had a severe reaction.
The mayor says she fully supports anyone who wants to be vaccinated and has volunteered at vaccine clinics to make sure people could be vaccinated. But, she says, the mandates are cutting people, like her children, off from society and it causes mental health issues.
“All I’m saying is that there are mandates in place that are not right. That there are people out there that can’t get an exemption and they’re being discriminated against. Those people’s lives have been ruined…young people have mental health issues now because of these mandates.
“There’s pain and heartache happening on both sides of this issue,” she said adding the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is not helping.
“Leadership is not standing up and saying that ‘I am better than you and I know better than you what is right for your life. And you’re all a bunch of fringe minority idiot people with unacceptable views’ – that is not leadership. That is a totalitarian society that I don’t want to live in.”
Several Warwick Township councillors The Independent talked to said they had heard from constituents concerned about Rombouts visit to the Ottawa protest.
The councillors said the mayor has a right to her opinion, however they’re concerned that because she is the mayor of the municipality, it might give the wrong impression that the whole of council agrees with the protest and the reasons behind it.
Councillor Wayne Morris added that while the mayor has a right to stand up for her beliefs, she is leader of council and she seems to have forgotten what she says reflects on the whole council.
The deputy mayor agrees. “I would prefer that people realize that Jackie’s point of view is not the whole council’s point of view or Warwick Township’s point of view,” said Jerry Westgate.
He added the mayor’s support of the protest would not affect how council does business. “So far, we really haven’t had a problem working together… we have worked well together from the beginning.”
Warwick Township is one of the communities which has been involved in briefings with Lambton OPP about the protestors blocking Highway 402 at Forest Road. Administrator Amanda Gubbells, who is the township’s emergency coordinator, has been attending those meetings for the township along with the political leadership of the other communities.